In Switzerland a bike is a tool, it is not a fitness statement or a recognition of sporting prowess it is just a tool to get from here to there efficiently. Families are out on bikes at all ages. Bikes with trailers behind to drag the youngest along. The youngest progress to bikes with no pedals to scoot along and get good at balance. Then kids graduate to small genuine bikes and head out riding.
Everybody rides and locks their bike to the nearest fence, gate or traffic pole. Bikes need to be secure, it needs to be waiting for you as you head home.
The riding stance was noticeable instantly. This is no bent up, deep digging power ride. People sit comfortably upright and pedal normally whisking thru gears as needed and bouncing across tram lines. Riders wear whatever they choose. There is no biker uniform and definitely no lycra to city riding. We see lots of riders in suit and tie or other business attire. A bike is not special - it just is.
Bikes get workers to the train station and the bikes are an acceptable part of train travel. The train does the long haul then the bikers dismount and finish their ride to the office or back home.
In the countryside is where we discovered the lycra brigade doing the long haul serious riding. They ride for the requisite hours then jump on a train to go home, or the other way around. Perhaps they use the train when the mountains get too much, although, judging by the lycra of this team, the mountains are just what they are after.
But in the cities bikes just rule. Hotels have fleets of bikes for guests to use. They offer them for “free hire.”
It was in St Moritz I noticed the Free Bike Hire sign. It was also where I heard the question,
“Do I need to wear a helmet?” - Only an Australian could ask such a question. I hung back watching the clerk answer.
“No no no, not here sir.
We do not insist you wear a helmet,
We don’t expect you to at all.
In this country you get to make that choice yourself.
We would never impose such a thing on our riders.
No sir, you do not need a helmet!”
All spoken with the slight Italian lilt I found common in the south of Switzerland.
The Aussie twang came back showing just how much impact our bike marketing has had.
“Well, can I have one anyway?”
“Of course sir!”